THE first time I met the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Alhaji M. D. Abubakar, as AIG Zone 2, I left his Onikan, Lagos, office without any iota of doubt about his ultimate ascension to the highest position in the Nigeria Police. Perhaps, I was divinely inspired to think that way.
But his intelligence, passion and forthrightness, which came through while we conversed, added to his very athletic look (a rarity among the generally protuberant Nigeria policemen) and calm mien made me prophesy to him openly that he would be the next IGP-as I gave him a farewell handshake. The rest, as they say, is history.
M.D. Abubakar’s appointment as IGP came at a particularly interesting time, in a manner of speaking. There could not have been a better way to test the credentials and capabilities of a police chief than now, with terrorism, kidnapping and armed robbery having literally turned Nigerians into refugees in their own land.
So, many (particularly his critics and those who wanted his job) would not envy Abubakar as he confronts these triumvirate of evils bedeviling the lives of hapless Nigerians. Thankfully, he seems to have risen to the challenge quite sure-footedly with some steps he has so far taken.
Perhaps, I was most delighted by his open refusal to swear in two new AIGs recently for what he described as indiscipline. The two AIGs, Drs. Julius A. Ishola and Alex E. Okeke, from the Veterinary and Medical Departments of the Force, had worn their new ranks to the IGP’s conference room, venue of the ceremony.
Apparently miffed by their action, which smacked of impatience and disregard for procedure, the IGP refused to decorate the duo with their new ranks-since they had jumped the gun and were already wearing it anyways. Said he: “I expect that the Commissioners of Police should not be putting on their new ranks because if they do, I do not know what I am going to decorate them with. So you should take note of it now”.
Earlier, a week into his appointment, the IGP had earned public acclaim when he ordered the immediate withdrawal of police checkpoints across the country.
That, in itself, was a masterstroke which resonated highly with the people of Nigeria, who have long been suffering the dire consequences of police highhandedness on the road. The argument has long been that the checkpoints predisposed the men in black to bad behaviour, including extortion of motorists and disruption of traffic without any positive impact on crime prevention and control.
Even if the rate of car snatching has quadrupled since the IGP’s directive, Nigerians seem to be happier and it will be a matter of time before both the police and the people will adapt to the new realities.
So, one is tempted to ask: Is this how this reform-minded IGP will change the Nigeria Police? The answer is yes and no. Yes, because indiscipline is one of the challenges facing the police. But no, because indiscipline is not the only challenge the Police are facing. As a matter of fact, the other challenges are direct forebears of indiscipline, which means, if they are resolved, indiscipline will be curtailed if not totally eliminated. So, what are these challenges?
Thankfully, the Police Reform Committee, headed by the Chairman of the Police Service Commission, AIG Parry Osayande (rtd), has just delivered what can be described as a blueprint for transforming the Police. Top on the agenda is motivation, which encompasses remuneration, welfare (including housing) and promotion. The Police are unquestionably poorly paid.
All the stark evidences are there for even the blind to see. Aside those who perform illegal duties or provide orderly services to top politicians and businessmen, the rest are incapable of sustaining themselves and their families. Of all the figures that have been bandied and are still being bandied, the IGP’s monthly salary, as revealed by the Osayande Committee, has taken the cake at N711, 498 compared to the DG of SSS’ N1.336m and the Chairman of EFCC’s N1.5m.
Hear Osayande: “It is the recommendation of the committee that the remuneration and general conditions of service of Police personnel should be reviewed upward to boost morale, instil discipline and restore the dignity of the Nigerian policeman”. Gbam! There’s really nothing more to add. It is preposterous to hire a hungry man or woman to protect anybody.
A hungry man, they say, is an angry man. And indeed, the hungry man would rather look for something to eat than police or protect anybody.
That’s what’s going on in the Nigeria Police. It is said that the entry package of police officers in the UK is the highest in the country. The idea is to attract intelligent graduates to the police. It goes without saying that any employer who offers peanuts as salary will have monkeys working for him. And the attitude of Nigeria policemen has amply demonstrated so much.
When last did you enter or drive past a Police Barrack? And when last did you enter an Army Barracks, Naval or Airforce Base? You will shudder at the comparison. While the others are tolerable, the Police Barracks across the country are an eye sore, mostly. This has to be changed urgently. The buildings have to be renovated and made more habitable.
EVEN the children who are born and bred inside these barracks will never forgive their parents and the country for exposing them to so much ridicule and dilapidated living conditions. In addition to providing decent accommodation for the junior officers, particularly, the issue of promotion should be addressed quickly to give most of the officers and men back their groove.
The next subject is espirit de corps in the force. This has to be revamped expeditiously if discipline is expected to return to the force.
I remember in 1999 when then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, ordered the immediate retirement of every military officer who has held any political position. That was a masterstroke in bringing back discipline and boosting morale among the military men.
In those heady days, especially under IBB and Sani Abacha, junior officers in juicy political positions did lord it over their superiors who either held command positions or none. Today, the military is better in that regard; but that has been compromised in the Police.
If you extrapolate the number of political office holders in Nigeria (including local government chairmen, members of the House of Assembly, members of the National Assembly and top government officials) as well as corporate executives and other high net worth individuals, HNIs, we might be looking at over a million policemen on guard and orderly duties. But question is: Do we have a one-million man strong police force? One only hopes some of the folks parading in police uniform are not private armies or the highly unfashionable state police coming into force “nicodemuously”.
Even so, how many are then left to protect the people, fight crime and maintain law and order? As a matter of fact, some powerful men and women have more than four policemen following them and opening doors and running errands for them. And the rest of the people are left at the mercy of suicide bombers, kidnappers and armed robbers!
One more thing, please: The Osayande Committee recommended the abrogation of the eponymous Ministry of Police Affairs, which it suggests has done nothing to better the affairs of the police, literally. “We are saying that the placement or super-imposition of the Ministry of Police Affairs is an anomaly.
The Ministry, the committee said, determines police projects and awards its contracts, including organising and running training programmes involving billions of naira with no input from the police, who are the end users. The result, he added, “is that some of the projects executed are not priorities to the Police.
This is an aberration, which has led to abuse, misapplication and haemorrhage of the limited resources made available to the Police”. The committee recommended that the Police should be empowered to determine its priorities, draw its budget based on its needs and be held accountable for the use of the funds.
I couldn’t have put it any better than the Osayande Committee has so eloquently and prudently done. The operational efficiency of the policy is dependent not only on disciplined and well-paid officers and men, but also on adequate modern equipment to work.
The Police need operational vehicles, telecommunications equipment, training and what have you to be the best they can be. Have you wondered why Nigeria police put up outstanding performance when they go on peace-keeping missions or training abroad? It’s all about motivation, remuneration, welfare, facilities and training.
Mr. EMEKA OPARAH, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos.